Steinbrenner backs Girardi, blames players for slow start

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NEW YORK >> Hal Steinbrenner had just started his quarterly State of the Yankees session when he asked to switch places with reporters and stood near the side of the lobby at Major League Baseball's headquarters.

"This feels better," the New York owner said with his back to the wall. "Very fitting."

A minute later, a security guard asked Steinbrenner and the media to step outside.

That's what happens when your team is last in the AL East at 16-22.

Steinbrenner backed manager Joe Girardi, his coaching staff and general manager Brian Cashman on Wednesday and blamed players for the team's poor start, which bottomed at 9-17. Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino were singled out for criticism, and Steinbrenner also praised Headley, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks along with Girardi, Cashman and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"The coaches are doing a good job," Steinbrenner said. "These are professional athletes. They're the best baseball players in the world, and sooner or later it comes down to them, on the inside, to push through whatever it is they're going through and to persevere."

Far less tempestuous than father George Steinbrenner, who goaded the team from his purchase in 1973 until nearly the time of his death in 2010, Hal discussed the Yankees analytically — but with hope.

"Needless to say, the first five weeks were disappointing, frustrating, particularly looking at the offense," he said. "Clearly not living up to their potential."

Teixeira, a three-time All-Star first baseman, started the day with a .211 average and 11 RBIs. Headley didn't have an extra-base hit until May 12. After going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA as a rookie, Severino is 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA and is on the disabled list with a triceps injury. Pineda is 1-5 with a 6.60 ERA — 102nd among 104 qualifying pitchers in the major leagues.

Steinbrenner's comments:

— "When you look at a guy like Mark Teixeira, clearly he's not playing to his potential with the bat."

— "Chase Headley, same thing. Now you're starting to see him hit, see him more relaxed. He's making harder contact. That has to continue."

— "Pineda is concerning — all these strikeouts and yet he's given up these runs. Clearly he's giving up runs early. Clearly there's been issues with his slider. Again, Larry can only do so much. Whatever technically is wrong with the delivery, Larry's going to work on, but the rest is up to Pineda to figure out. He's a professional and that's what we expect from him and that's what his teammates expect from him."

— "We all know Severino has good stuff. I'm not worried about his stuff. We saw that the last two months of last year. We'll see about the injury and how much that played into his performance the last few outings. I also think there was a confidence issue at some point. He is a rookie. This is his first downturn, if you will. ... Every player is going to have to learn how to push through that downturn the first time and get through it. And he will."

"I don't think it's a flaw in the way the team is put together," Steinbrenner said. "I think the team we have this year is better than the team we had last year."

Now 46 and his hair starting to gray near the temples, Steinbrenner put off questions about what he would do if the Yankees are far from contention as the Aug. 1 deadline approaches for trades without waivers. After missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in two decades, New York returned last October only to lose to Houston in the AL wild-card game.

For their first 22 home games, the Yankees averaged 38,587 fans, on track to surpass last year's average of 39,992 given the larger crowds that usually show up when school is out.

"Season tickets are slightly up, which is the first time in four or five years that that's been the case," Steinbrenner said. "I don't know if it's making the playoffs one game or not. I don't know if it's some of the young players, Hicks, Castro, (Aroldis) Chapman, some of the guys we brought on. I don't know. But the fans have been excited."

He talked about the need for the Yankees to always have veteran stars, even as they add younger players. He looked ahead to prospects such as first baseman Greg Bird and pitcher James Kaprielian, who are both hurt, and shortstop Jorge Mateo. He said another run of consecutive World Series titles may be more difficult with the parity caused by revenue sharing and the luxury tax, but he thinks it still is possible.

"Sooner or later it comes down to" — he stopped, and tapped a hand over his heart three times.

New York won six World Series titles while George Steinbrenner was in charge. Hal, whose only title since taking over came in 2009, knows the standard dad set.

"If my name wasn't Steinbrenner, I wouldn't be here," he said. :I don't look at this as something I deserve. I've been given this. It's a gift. I respect it, and I enjoy it."


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